At its best, Bedroom blesses listeners with full-bodied sounds crafted for weekend nights – aside from the music, all that’s needed are good friends and a cheap bottle or two. But in minutes of weakness, Mabel’s vision disappointingly falls short of visionary.
There’s something attractive about artists who consciously present their work in a fashion reflective of their persona – it’s easy to gravitate towards a character whose inimitable identity remains cohesive from image to sound. The expanding success of London-based R&B newcomer Mabel McVey warrants this conviction, and with the recent release of her debut EP Bedroom (released 5/26/2017 via Capitol Records/Polydor Records), the 21-year-old singer/songwriter’s fans have been given a collection of tracks that further evidence Mabel’s preferred, unswerving communicative methods: beats and melodies oozing of ‘90s soul-pop, love-oriented chronicles, and album art attire reminiscent of Lil Kim’s pre-millennium wardrobe. At its best, Bedroom blesses listeners with full-bodied sounds crafted for weekend nights – aside from the music, all that’s needed are good friends and a cheap bottle or two. But in minutes of weakness, Mabel’s vision disappointingly falls short of visionary.
Initially boarding the plane of British R&B back in 2015, now 21-year-old Mabel was destined to fill the largest pair of shoes – after all, she’s the child of Massive Attack affiliate Cameron McVey and famed Swedish pop singer Neneh Cherry. Characterized by toddler days spent lazing in recording studios (while her father worked his production wizardry), and teenaged years studying songwriting in the pop powerhouse of Stockholm, Mabel’s upbringing exemplified an advantage vulnerable to the following judgment: our sad, failed American Dream-esque reality means that contacts and coinage often gets an aspiring artist farther than legitimate talent and resolve. And for those attached to the perceived authenticity and skill showcased on Mabel’s adolescent projects – namely, debut single “Know Me Better” and its follow-up “My Boy, My Town” – it would be disheartening to realize that such creations were not carefully cultivated through experience and patience, but hastily manufactured for the sake of immediate success.
Yet, this is not the case with Mabel, and it would be misleading to name-drop her musician parents without recognizing her as an independent force. In fact, after hearing the young woman singing Bryson Tiller and Destiny’s Child covers live in her sensual contralto, it’s manifest that Mabel – along with her sometimes tomboyish, always youthful glow – would’ve ended up fronting a girl group like 3LW or even Xscape had she been born a few decades earlier. And as a performer who understands that real experiences trigger the greatest R&B, Mabel is dedicated to writing her own material. With that capacity in mind, the McVey legacy bloodline will hopefully trivialize as she continues growing into her artistry and mainstream potential.
On Bedroom, a project briskly clocking in at 15 minutes, the strongest instances of both notions are irresistible dance cuts that dominate over half of the EP’s runtime, and rightfully so. Considered a favorite by Mabel herself, standout track “Talk About Forever” echoes the singer’s experience with temporary teen ardor (We can make our own world/ Just let me be my own girl/ We’ll talk about forever babe/ You know that I do, you know I love you) through a chorus framed by melodious vocal riffs and a club-friendly bassline. Indeed, the buzzing pop package is so well-executed that it’s impossible to tune into without abruptly feeling the urge to get up, get down.
Still, the lyrics of “Talk About Forever” seem to act as an earlier chapter of the love saga described in 2016’s “Thinking of You,” a free-floating single that, even with four new additions to Mabel’s catalog, still hasn’t met its match. And the decision to distance the older track from the Bedroom EP is a sizeable misstep – one that only contributes to the protracted feeling of the releases’ alternate half. This is where her creativity is shaded by sonic structures derived from the stalest of modern pop rather than iconic millennium R&B. Mabel shares a dark, love-worn message on “Ride or Die,” but any proposed seriousness is padded by production that belongs on Rihanna’s Loud (2010) or, perhaps at worse, wedged into 2013’s ordinary Britney Jean. Then there’s “Bedroom,” an electropop title track that serves no actual purpose, aside from giving the EP’s name an ambiguous backstory.
Watch: “Bedroom” – Mabel
It can be argued that Bedroom’s saving grace is its organization; strategically placed between each pebble is something shinier that enables an audience to trek through the album’s entirety instead of tossing in the towel after its opening dud. Thanks to a West African rhythm and bars from afro-swing rapper Kojo Funds, “Finders Keepers” is certainly one of those glossier gems – simultaneously, it’s an example of Mabel’s original artistic direction presented on her pre-Bedroom offerings. The cut not only embodies quiet, feminist subversion (I don’t need miracles from ya/ So let’s keep the talk minimal/ Is it criminal for me to want you right here, right now?/ They say it’s all chemical), but flashes with a 2002 sample of Jamaican producer Steven “Lenky” Marsden’s popular dancehall riddim. Today, “Finders Keepers” has quickly become one of Mabel’s catchiest singles, and the fact that it’s sonic appeal genuinely connects to her heritage and hometown – her mother’s family is from Sierra Leone, and Kojo is another rising artist hailing from London – makes it all the more favorable, especially for listeners who’ve been rooting for the young woman since the beginning.
In all honestly, it’s quite hard to blatantly dislike Mabel’s work – like a favorite candy from childhood, the young artist’s soul-sprinkled pop is frequently nostalgic and addictive. But there’s such thing as overdosing on familiar options, particularly with a project as succinct as Bedroom, on which a handful of borrowed sounds mirror an unremarkable yesterday rather than a celebrated yesteryear. Equally unattractive is the EP’s lack of surprise – three-fourths of the tracklist was already available for listening prior to the project’s release date, and if scrapped, the leftover portion wouldn’t be missed. Nonetheless, Mabel’s raw singing and songwriting abilities are enough to earn her of plenty faithful ears, and the blunders of her debut possibly reveal that she’s willing to stand for her own ideas – sometimes debatable and naive – before selling out for someone else’s. And though Bedroom is galaxies away from perfect, its correctable disappointments surely raise the query of what, exactly, the future has in store for a luminous star like Mabel.
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cover © Polydor Records